SMILES of joy and relief brightened the faces of 32 matric pupils at the impoverished Booysen Park Senior Secondary School yesterday as they were told they would have all their tertiary education tuition fees covered.
All they have to do is pass.
"This is truly a blessed opportunity. In fact, it’s like manna from heaven. It is God’s way of blessing our school and the pupils. It relieves a huge financial burden,” Chanteline Sifiel said.
Fellow matriculant Candice Botha said: "I will grab this opportunity with both hands. This is a life-changing opportunity.”
This year’s matric class has scored from the school’s astounding achievement of doubling its matric pass rate last year.
After reading an article in The Herald about the school’s success in improving its matric pass rate from 42.8% to 85.4%, Coca-Cola Fortune stepped in and yesterday officially offered bursaries to any of the 32 matric pupils who receive acceptance to a tertiary institution.
Pupils will receive a bursary to study towards a bachelor’s degree or national diploma of their choice at a recognised tertiary institution in the city.
In addition, last year’s matrics who obtained an exemption but could not further their studies due to a lack of funding will also be offered bursaries.
Principal Elroy Bosman yesterday handed the excited matric pupils letters from the company, confirming it would pay all registration and tuition fees and prescribed text books.
"I would not have been able to send my daughter to university had it not been for this bursary. When she told me, we both burst into tears,” Albertus Sifiel – whose daughter, Chanteline, had been trying without success to secure a bursary – said.
"I have no words to express my gratitude. This opportunity is a gift from above.”
Another parent, Francine Kiewits, said her daughter, Shenise, would not have been able to further her studies had she not received this bursary offer. "Since school started, she has been studying every day, even on weekends,” she said.
Coca-Cola human resources executive Amber Anderson said she had cut out The Herald article after she read it in January.
The company decided to get in touch with the school because it considered education one of the key pillars of its corporate social responsibility.
Anderson said when she first visited the school, she had asked Bosman what the biggest needs were and what could be done to assist pupils to get their desired 100% pass rate.
"I was so humbled by his answer. He said ‘bread’.
"We went the bursary route because it is no use passing matric if you cannot further your studies. We are watching the matriculants with bated breath. We are excited and we want them to do well.
"The commitment of the principal and teachers should also not go unnoticed.”
Anderson said Coca-Cola was committed to running the project every year.
It has also asked the school to find the pupils who passed with an exemption last year.
"We were informed that many of them are now sitting at home. We will definitely be giving them bursaries as well,” she said.
The pupils are taking the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity seriously, aiming for a 100% pass rate.
Teachers have also stepped up to assist pupils, offering extra lessons and "adopting” specific pupils for the year.
Sapphire Road Primary School principal Bruce Damons praised the initiative and encouraged other corporate companies to follow suit.
"This a wonderful initiative. It is going to boost the morale of the matriculants, the entire school and those living in the area.
"It puts the onus on the pupils to perform well and to be an example for the pupils they leave behind,” he said.
Matric teacher Eugene Arnolds said preparations for the crucial June exams had started when the first school bell rang in January.
"From day one, pupils applied themselves. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and even some Saturdays they are here for extra classes.
"All the teachers have committed themselves to help the matriculants reach their goals.”
In March, pupils attended a four-day study camp. Teachers also use a monitoring system where each teacher has "adopted” three matric pupils for the year.
Teacher Shamelle Sauls said this had involved going to the home of every pupil to assess their environment and, where needed, provide the required assistance.
"Through this method we got their parents involved to encourage and motivate their children,” she said.
Matric pupil Candice Botha, 18, said the June exams were considered the most important exams of the year.
Head boy Emile Slater, 18, said he stayed at school to study for two extra hours every day.
"The June exams are crucial. Our entire class knows this, so we have been preparing.”